Housing for the many

After eight years, the Conservatives’ record of failure on housing is clear: home ownership is down, homelessness is rising, and the number of new social rented homes being built is still at the lowest level since records began.

As councils across the country know, the housing market is broken and Conservative housing policy is failing to fix it.

Ministers talk big about house building targets, to be reached sometime in the dim distance of the next decade. Labour starts from the basic truth that what new homes we build, and who they’re for, matter just as much as how many we build.

Councils will be at the heart of our plans. Our first immediate step must be to halt the huge loss of social rented homes under current Conservative policy – 150,000 in the last five years alone.

We’ll stop the sell-off of social rented homes by suspending Right to Buy, ending all conversions to ‘affordable rent’ and ensuring a future government can never again force councils to sell the best of their homes.

“we’ll keep making the case for radical change on housing

This April, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn MP and I launched Labour’s green paper, ‘Housing for the many’, setting out Labour’s commitment to build a million genuinely affordable homes over 10 years, by launching the biggest council house building programme for more than 30 years.

At the heart of our programme will be lifting council housing borrowing caps to their prudential limits. But this common-sense step will just be the start. We’ll make funding available to councils who want to build, and back those councils who don’t currently have any council housing because of stock transfer to start building again.

We will transform the planning system with the importance of affordable homes at its heart, end the ‘viability’ loophole that lets commercial developers dodge their obligation to deliver affordable homes, and give local areas access to cheaper land with a new English Sovereign Land Trust.

After the disaster of Grenfell Tower, when survivors told us that “tenants were victims before the fire”, it’s clear radical reform is needed. We will make safe homes for all the very highest priority with funding for sprinklers in all council high-rise blocks, a ban on combustible cladding, and fire safety the first standard in a new Decent Homes 2 programme.

By contrast, the Tories’ social housing plans released this summer offer no fresh thinking or fresh funding for new, genuinely affordable, homes. But the lack of Conservative confidence on housing shows how Labour is winning the case for change.

The Housing and Planning Act, passed more than two years ago, was the most anti-council piece of housing legislation in decades. We opposed it in Parliament then and, although the Government won the votes, we won the arguments. Proposals for a forced sell-off of council homes have now been dropped, draconian ‘pay to stay’ plans scrapped and a nationwide Right to Buy for housing association tenants mothballed. Unaffordable ‘starter homes’ are still unbuilt.

So we’ll keep making the case for radical change on housing but, with Labour in opposition at Westminster, the best hope for change for millions of people is Labour councillors and councils across England. This record demonstrates the difference Labour in power can make, and will be an important part of the platform on which Labour wins the next General Election.

The Labour Party conference takes place in Liverpool from 23 to 26 September, see  www.labour.org.uk/conference

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